Europe twisting over Libya
Faced with international crises Europe seems to tie itself in knots. Some seek what is not possible. Some chase what does not exist.
I refer to those who hanker after a European foreign policy. Some yearn for the EU to speak with one voice and to shape events in what it regards as its own backyard. They judge events on what they tell us about European unity.
And then there is the reality of power.
Nations with influence will not be silenced in the face of grave events. So David Cameron chose to be the first major Western leader to visit Egypt after its revolution. France's President Sarkozy put sanctions against Libya on the agenda.
The German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, decided not to wait for international meetings. "It is no longer about setting deadlines," he said. "It's about acting now... therefore I have decided that sanctions should be prepared now." Germany favours a ban on Gaddafi's family travelling and a freeze of their international assets. He dismissed economic sanctions. Having set out Germany's stall, the foreign minister said he would begin talks with international partners including the EU.
France and Britain have drafted a UN proposal. It seeks an arms embargo and financial sanctions. David Cameron said: "Britain, through the United Nations, is pressing for asset seizures, for travel bans, for sanctions, for all of the things that we can do to hold those people to account, including investigating for potential crimes against humanity or war crimes, or crimes against their people."
President Obama has phoned David Cameron, President Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi. They between them have the most experienced military forces in Europe and, in the case of Italy, the greatest influence with Gaddafi.
President Sarkozy became the first European leader to insist that Gaddafi "must go".
Some see all of this as old-style European politics; that the Lisbon Treaty has made no difference. E-mails flood in to that effect.
The EU's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton cannot make up a foreign policy. She has to consult and Europe has some different opinions over subjects like sanctions and how to manage large numbers of refugees. She has said that the 27-nation bloc should adopt "restrictive measures" of its own. She is trying to co-ordinate with the UN Security Council and putting what pressure she can on the Libyan regime.
But in truth the EU does not have the means to arrange evacuations. Its major leaders can immediately set the agenda with a single speech. They do not have to consult.
The pragmatic position is that the nation states should do what they do best and that the EU focuses on where it can deliver. The organisation will play a vital role in building democratic institutions across North Africa once the turmoil has subsided. The EU has long experience in overseeing elections. It carries a hefty punch with aid and development.
But for many that is not enough. Their frustration lies in their dreams. They imagine Europe to be what it isn't and so forever seem disappointed.
What it can mean is that at moments of crisis some of Europe faces inwards, tying itself in knots.